In hindsight we have the power of fact, and in an exercise in humility I went back to look at my projections from the 2014 NFL rookie class to see how I fared in my opinions. For this I used a binary (yes or no) for each player listed in my top 16, then added subjective comments.
Why 2014? The NFL is a complicated game, it requires preparation, repetition and time to demonstrate ones ability. This is particularly true at the quarterback and receiver (WR & TE) positions where the timing, understanding of the playbook and speed of the game are paramount to success. Thus two years in the league seems like a fair point to judge whether a player is going to amount to something or not.
Before we get into the specific projections, my success or “Hit” rate was 67%. Of the 16 rookies I hit on 10, missed on 5 with 1 incomplete. However there were a couple glaring omissions, most notably Odell Beckham from the top 16.
Also note that the commentary/analysis below is from the original 2014 article, truncated where applicable. You can read the original article here. Without further ado.
- QB Johnny Manziel - Advanced metrics say he’s likely a star and there’s something “special” about his composure. No situation is too big for him. Yes he may party and he’s unorthodox but some players just have “it”.
- 2016 Evaluation: Missed badly….yes he parties too much, and that’s the start of the many many issues that have derailed his life.
- QB Blake Bortles - Bortles maybe the least sexy of the top 5 or 6 potential picks but don’t forget he was the #3 overall pick, goes to a team that promises to let him “learn” (aka sit for a year to develop) and just invested multiple high picks at WR. He is the most pro projectable in terms of height, size, athletic ability and leadership.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit…he hasn’t translated into football wins but fantasy wise he was a top 6 performer in ’15.
- RB Bishop Sankey - Sankey is one of the better two way running backs in this class and he landed in easily the best situation for immediate playing time and traditional offensive philosophies in Tenn. Will he get 300 touches? Highly doubtful but he’s the safest to get 200 and has enough natural talent to be a RB2 in ’14 with upside.
- 2016 Evaluation: Miss…Sankey got touches but was so inefficient with them the Titans are still in desperate need of running game.
- QB Teddy Bridgewater - Bridgewater is my favorite of the rookie quarterbacks, he has a lot of what I love about Manziel w/o any of the hoopla bs. He’s the most pro ready drop back QB in this class, and while he’s not the runner/playmaker of Manziel, he’s a deadly accurate thrower who put an average college program on his back and led them to BCS victory. He’s played hurt and he’s a quiet leader.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit….Bridgewater hasn’t statistically broken out but he’s as firm in his starting role as any QB from the ’14 class and the only one to lead his team to the playoffs. He needs more receiving weapons to take the next step.
- QB Derek Carr - He’s been highly productive, demonstrates NFL size/height, arm strength and most importantly, he’s grown up around the NFL game (via his brother David) so he’s more prepared and understanding of what it takes to be successful than most.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit….Carr has #Raidernation pumped up, ’16 is a pivotal year though.
- RB Carlos Hyde - Hyde is talented as a pile mover and pass protector but he’s not shown much ability in the passing game. That said the 49’ers are one of the few successful NFL teams that still run a 1970’s style ground control offensive game, and if Hyde ascends to the starting role (over KHunter & MLattimore) in ’15, then he could be worth the investment.
- 2016 Evaluation: Quasi Hit…When given touches (and healthy), Hyde looks like a top, bell cow type back.
- RB Tre Mason - Mason is a pile driving, willful runner who showed so much heart as the soul of the NCAA runner up Auburn football team this past year. Mason showed incredible north-south improvisational skills this past year and is setup to get immediate playing time in a committee with last year’s rookie surprise, Zac Stacy.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit…Mason has performed well when he’s received touches, unfortunately his fantasy value took a major hit when the Rams selected generational talent Todd Gurley last year.
- RB Lache Seastrunk - Seastrunk maybe the second highest ceiling rookie behind only Manziel but he has a much lower floor. If you watch Seastrunk’s highlight reel you’d assume he was a heisman finalist and a top 5 pick, the guy is a Barry Sanders type. In fact he looks and plays an awful like LeSean McCoy.
- 2016 Evaluation: Major Miss…Seastrunk doesn’t have the work ethic to succeed at the NFL level.
- WR Sammy Watkins - The Bills are intent on making him their featured receiver (any doubt was erased when they dealt ‘in his prime' current #1 Stevie Johnson for a 4th rounder to SF). If the Bills had an established QB, I’d have Watkins higher, but I believe EJ Manuel can step up and Watkins will help him. So he’s a likely 800 yard 7 TD guy as a rookie with lots of upside in year two.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit…Watkins exceeded the stats projection slightly as a rookie but didn’t explode in year two. Coaches are raving about him though heading into year three.
- WR Brandin Cooks - I like Cooks a lot and landing in New Orleans was ideal for him. He’s small but not terribly so (5’11, 185 lbs.); lightning quick and fast (sub 4.3). New Orleans is planning to use him in the Darren Sproles AND Lance Moore roles, so he’s going to get a LOT of touches. He won’t get nearly as many carries as Sproles did but he’ll push 80 catches and 800 yards as a rookie with lots of upside in the most passing centric offense in the NFL.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit…injuries derailed stats projection as a rookie though his run rate was right on; year two he exploded into WR1/WR2.
- RB Jeremy Hill - Hill is a guy I’m having trouble projecting. It’s clear Cincy is planning to use him in a committee with Gio Bernard and will likely cut BJGE assuming he’s up to the task. But when I look at film I see an erratic runner, one time he’s dynamic and strong, another time he easily goes down. If he’s motivated and used properly, he could be a 800 yard 8+ td guy and turn into an RB2/RB3 type but I don’t see huge upside so he’s limited to being a role player.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit but with a caveat…Hill was a major success as a rookie far exceeding my expectations but he came back down to my projection in his second year. So I give it a hit b/c he’s settling into that RB2/RB3 projection I made two years ago.
- RB Devonta Freeman - Freeman is a complete projection both in terms of his limited college playing time as well as his situation in Atlanta. It’s conceivable Freeman is this year Alfred Morris type who rattles off 1200+ total yards and 8+ TD’s out of nowhere. However that’s a major projection so it’s hard for me to say one way or another.
- 2016 Evaluation: Quasi Hit….Freeman missed time with minor injuries as a rookie but once healthy in ’15 he demonstrated the talent he showed in college.
- QB Jimmy Garoppolo - Possibly the most intriguing prospect of the draft is the Patriots 2nd round selection of QB Garoppolo. Past history shows that teams that develop a player for a couple years to take over from a generational stud franchise quarterback have more success than those that plug in a guy w/o the maturation process. So the odds are higher here but it’s the time/investment required that will be tough. For what it’s worth the film shows a quick release, accurate, pocket passer with some mobility.
- 2016 Evaluation: Incomplete.
- RB Kadeem Carey - Carey was expected to be taken in the 2nd or at worst 3rd round then he ran a 4.71 40 and looked mediocre at the combine (and for that matter in many of the all star games). Landing in Chicago may look good on paper but they are one of those teams still riding the 1970’s train (2 receiver, 2 running back, ride one horse) with their offense. Matt Forte will eventually wear down but he’s only 28 and has workhorse look to him. So Carey has upside if Forte breaks down but he could easily be the #3 guy who never gets any touches and never gets a shot.
- 2016 Evaluation: Miss…Carey got his shot and didn’t deliver, the uber productive pac 12 player simply looks mediocre at the pro level.
- RB DeAnthony Thomas - Thomas, like Carey, disappointed at the combine and all star games, but unlike Carey landed in a great spot in KC under Andy Reid. KC will plug him into the Dexter McCluster role getting bubble screens and touches behind fragile Jamaal Charles. His immediate upside is limited playing behind Charles and in an avg. offense but his quickness and versatility could get him enough touches to be immediately fantasy relevant.
- 2016 Evaluation: Miss.
- WR Mike Evans - There’s so much fantasy talent that this is a stab in the dark but an educated guess given Evans draft spot (#7 overall), size/speed ratio and the value to cost metric. I don’t have the same love for Evans that many do but if he’s used like Vincent Jackson was used early in his career (post/go routes and easy perimeter possession routes) he will be successful.
- 2016 Evaluation: Hit…he needs to become more consistent but the future is bright.
Players I missed on:
- Odell Beckham - this is a major one, the greatest rookie receiver (ok maybe not as fantasy relevant as Randy Moss but in that stratosphere) in NFL history. He should have been on this list.
- Allen Hurns - in fairness the entire NFL missed on this undrafted free agent.
- Jordan Matthews - given his 3rd round status and marginal second year, this is just me being kind.
- Kelvin Benjamin - Incredible rookie year, albeit enhanced by being force-fed throws on a team lacking alternatives, his future is bright in Carolina.